Class A: Ram Nation Books Return

March 23, 2012

EAST LANSING – The final buzzer sounded before Romulus’ last-gasp 3-point shot reached the rim Friday at the Breslin Center.

As Rockford’s Mark Pearson watched the ball complete its arc, he figured good or not, it wouldn’t take away from the incredible run his unranked Rams made this postseason.

“We’ve worked so hard this year, and to just see that shot go up … all our practices, all our summer stuff we’ve done, and all through the year, it’s all been worth it,” Pearson said. “If it would’ve gone in, we wouldn’t have been satisfied. But by the same token, it (would’ve been) a good year.

“But we’ve got one more now.”

When that final shot caromed off the rim, the Rams celebrated a 62-61 victory and their first championship game berth since winning the Class A title in 2003.

Rockford will face top-ranked Saginaw in the Final at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Eagles, ranked No. 2 at the start of the tournament, finished 22-4.

The Rams (22-5) split the O-K Red title with both Hudsonville and East Kentwood this season, and needed to make some key plays to get to Breslin – especially after trailing Okemos by 10 in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.

Rockford gave up its most points Friday since opening night – but also scored its second-most this season.

“Maybe people were underestimating them. We were being a little bit too laid back on defense,” Romulus senior Ray Lee said.

And the Rams showed plenty of guts again when it counted in the Semifinal.

After the teams come out of halftime tied, Romulus began breaking away in the third quarter and went up 49-44 with a period to play. The Eagles’ lead stood at six with 5:50 to play. It seemed their time to secure a Finals bid had come.

Not so.

Rockford went on an 11-0 run that included all four of standout junior guard Chad Carlson’s points, plus five of junior Chase Fairfield’s game-high 17. With 1:43 to play, Romulus suddenly found itself down five, 59-54.

 “You hope and you wish and you pray, but making those expectations is tough,” Rockford coach Nick Allen said. “We hoped and wished, and maybe prayed a little bit too.”

Seniors Mitch Caywood and Ivy Johnson would provide a few more answers.

Johnson hit two free throws to give the Rams a 61-57 lead with 1:16 to play, but Romulus knotted the score again with 31 seconds left. Johnson, a 6-foot-6 sub, was fouled again with 7.6 seconds to play.

His first free throws went off the back of the rim. He second fell to give Rockford a 62-61 lead. But Romulus still had hope – until Caywood dashed it a bit by stealing the inbounds pass.

Rockford did miss two more free throws after that. But with only 3.4 seconds left, the Eagles couldn’t set up much more than the final 3-point try.

Johnson and Caywood both finished with 11 points, while senior guard Scott Nikodemski had 12. Junioe Elbert Matthews and senior Aveon Simmons led Romulus with 15 apiece, and Lee added 13.

The Eagles have now made at least the Semifinals in four of the last eight seasons – but Friday’s loss was the latest in a frustrating run. Romulus lost by one point in its 2009 Semifinal and by two in overtime in 2008. The Eagles made the Class A Final in 2005, but lost by three.

“It’s hard to do. I can say that, because we were ranked No. 1 in the state the last two years and didn’t make it here,” Romulus coach Nate Oats said. “So I’m happy we got here this year, but it’s not real satisfying anymore to get here. … I’m a little bit tired of getting here and not getting it done.”

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PHOTO: Rockford center Ivy Johnson (44) blocks the path of Romulus senior Aveon Simmons (5) during Friday's Semifinal. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.) 

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.